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'It's One Of Those Things You Could Write A Play About' - There Was Nothing Like Dublin And Meath

'It's One Of Those Things You Could Write A Play About' - There Was Nothing Like Dublin And Meath

This Sunday, Meath go into their first Leinster final since 2014 more in hope than expectation. A small crowd is expected at Croke Park for what promises to be Dublin's ninth Leinster triumph in a row. Meath's best hope is to avoid the 16 point thrashing they received five years ago.

It's a far cry from the great days of Leinster football, when Meath were kings, and the Dubs were playing catchup. Over 10 glorious years, the two went back and forth, and back again, winning 8 Leinster titles between them, and representing Leinster in seven All-Ireland finals.

Before backdoors, the battles between Dublin and Meath were the be-all and end-all for both counties. In the 1990s, the teams met 11 times in the Championship, Meath won five of the games, Dublin won three, and, of course, there were three draws.

Although the famous four-match series in 1991 is perhaps the best remembered chapter, Dublin and Meath met 11 times during the 1990s, with Meath coming out on top by an aggregate score of just two points. For former Dublin captain John O'Leary, it really was as tight as that.

It was an incredibly close rivalry. We played Meath in the first round in 1983, and that was a draw. We played them in a replay and beat them by a point, so even in '83, '84, '85, there was only one or two points in those games. From the '80s into the '90s, it was always really close, and that was part of the rivalry.

Meath legend Graham Geraghty would go on to be the bane of Dublin, but was watching on as a supporter in 1991. During those formative years it was clear that there was only one team that mattered in Leinster.

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I was a young spectator looking at those games, and your ambition was always to play against Dublin at Croke Park. That mentality was there, that we weren't afraid of the Dubs, but they were always our main rivals.

It was something that was just bred when you were a young fella coming in on to the panel. This is our main rival, and if you got over Dublin, you had one foot in the final.

Four-in-a-row

In 1991, O'Leary and his Dublin team came up against a Meath side that had lost the previous year's All-Ireland. The teams would draw three times in a series for the ages.

O'Leary remembers one of the maddest few weeks in GAA history.

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It was fairytale stuff. It's almost one of those things you could write a play about. It just went on and on, with lots of different plots in each game. Even at that, if you think of it, Jack Sheedy had a free from about 50 yards out which would have drawn the fourth game.

A friend of mine who had business customers over from, I think Holland, and they were over at the second game. When they heard the third game had been drawn, they wanted to come back over for the fourth game!

For Geraghty, still on the Meath minor panel, that series cemented the up-and-coming Dubs as chief rivals for Meath.

Dublin was the biggest hurdle for us. It was harder to win Leinster that time nearly than it was to go on and win the All-Ireland, because Dublin were at the top of their game. I think we weren't far away, even though we were in transition.

 A friendly rivalry?

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An All-Ireland win in 1995 for Dublin and one for Meath in 1996 only spurred on the rivalry again, as both teams knew that to win their own province would be a huge stepping stone towards their ultimate goal.

On the pitch there was no quarter given, but off the pitch, there was a healthy respect. O'Leary thinks the formerly prestigious Interprovincial championships were the reason for this.

One of the things that happened with us was the Railway Cup. That was really where I got to know the likes of Mick Lyons or Colm O'Rourke or Brian Stafford.

It was great to meet guys like that and play with them. At that stage, it was definitely there on the pitch, but it was grand afterwards. And it still is today. You meet fellas every now and then out of the blue, and it's long passed.

It is for most of us anyway!

Although the game has changed and evolved over the years, Geraghty believes that this rivalry should always be remembered as one for the ages.

Those games were so tough. If you were near the pitch at all, you'd hear the crunch in the tackle. It was fantastic to watch. Sometimes, especially in the four-in-a-row when there was so much at stake, the games mightn't have been brilliant to look at, but the intensity and the rivalry was fantastic. I don't think you'll match that again.

We will see a renewal of hostilities at Croke Park this Sunday. Meath are rejuvenated under Andy McEntee and are back in Division 1 for 2020. Being back in a Leinster final is a good first step, but with Dublin heading for nine in a row in Leinster, the rivalry is incomparable to what is was in those halcyon days. One suspects a few Dubs fans wouldn't even mind seeing their old enemies get that bit of bite back some time soon.

SEE ALSO: The Key Thing Galway Are Getting Wrong And Why They Must Solve It

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